Bogart, Greenstreet, High Art, Mean Streets: Noir City Returns

The annual film noir festival takes over the Castro for 10 days in the cinematic underworld, including Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock's first foray into the Bay Area.

Joseph Ciotten in Shadow of a Doubt (Film Noir Foundation)

Russian collusion, unhinged despots, alternative facts. In dark times, where does one seek escape? Some may look for sunshine and rainbows, but if you want it darker, you can find it at Noir City, the annual film noir festival that envelopes the Castro Theatre in depravity and despair for 10 days. 

Every night from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4, the festival showcases a double bill of world-gone-wrong cinematic fare — with an additional double-feature matinee on weekends. The selections run the gamut from big-budget films with A-list actors to dingy little movies with B-list players who sometimes seem as desperate to make it as the scheming underworld characters they portray. 

In the first category, Humphrey Bogart leads the pack in Conflict (1945), in which he teams up with frequent Warners Bros. co-star Sidney Greenstreet. But this time their roles are reversed: Bogart plays the villain, a wife-killer, while Greenstreet plays the hero, a psychiatrist who specializes in probing the criminal mind. The film shows Friday, Jan. 29.

Joan Dixon in Roadblock (Film Noir Foundation)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943), for which Alfred Hitchcock made his first foray to the Bay Area, shows Saturday, Jan. 27. Hitchcock, who ranked Shadow as his favorite among his films, transforms bucolic 1940s Santa Rosa into the locus of evil. Joseph Cotten, following superb performances in such films as Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, takes on one of his best roles as an East Coast killer on the lam hiding out with his small-town relatives. 

On Thursday, Feb. 1Noir City presents a rarity with I Walk Alone (1948), a long-lost film newly restored by Paramount, in which Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas pay Prohibition-era bootleggers, while Lizabeth Scott lights up the screen as a nightclub singer. And Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953) shows Sunday, Feb. 4, showcasing the talents of Gloria Grahame, in one of her best roles, and Glenn Ford, as well as a young Lee Marvin. 

But the real pleasure of Noir City is found in the cheap B-movies you’ve likely never heard of — the brisk 70-minute tales of crime, betrayal, and desperation that studios made to fill out double bills. 

In Night Editor (1946), one of the tawdriest of noirs, which shows Tuesday, Jan. 30, an illicit Lovers’ Lane rendezvous between a cop and a married woman heats up when the couple witness a murder and the bloodshed serves as an unexpected aphrodisiac. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, High Tide (1947), which was restored by the Film Noir Foundation in 2012, features a crusading newspaper editor seeking protection from gangsters. And in Roadblock (1951), showing Saturday, Feb. 3, tough guy Charles McGraw shows his softer side as an insurance investigator corrupted by his desire for Joan Dixon. 

Also on Feb. 3, the festival features a brand new restoration by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. In The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), a San Francisco cop tries to cover up a murder committed by his married lover, while a rookie detective—his brother—takes up the investigation. 

And how could Noir City be complete without an appearance by B-movie mainstay Dan Duryea, who brings his unique brand of smarm and cynicism to The Underworld Story (1950), the tale of a shady newspaper reporter who’s only out for himself. Another preservation project from the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA, the film screens as part of the Feb. 3 matinee. 

Noir City, Friday, Jan. 26 – Sunday, Feb. 4, at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro St., noircity.com 

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